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308                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
Gheslov's group dashed in among the scattered Junkers,
chased them away and forced them hastily to unload
their bombs over their own lines. This was exactly what
Captain Gheslov had calculated on in undertaking his
manoeuvre—to compel the enemy to bomb his own lines!
Getting the sun behind him had not been his chief aim.
The first line of Germans closed up again, however,
and the Junkers continued on their way towards the spot
where the tanks had broken through. The third flight's
attack was unsuccessful. The Germans did not lose a
single machine, and one of the fighter planes vanished,
shot down by a German gunner. They were drawing
near to the place where the tanks were to develop their
attack, there was no time to increase altitude. Cheslov
decided to risk an attack from underneath. Alexei men-
tally approved of this. He himself was eager to take
advantage of the "La-5's" splendid qualities in vertical
manoeuvring to "dig" the enemy in the belly. The first
flight was already shooting upward, spouting tracer
bullets like a fountain. Two Germans dropped out of
line at once. One of them must have been cut in two, for
it suddenly split, and its tail just barely missed Meresyev's
"Follow!" shouted Meresyev, and casting a sidelong
glance at the silhouette of Petrov's machine, he pulled
his stick.
The ground turned upside down. Alexei fell back in
his seat as if he had been struck a heavy blow. He felt
the taste of blood in his mouth and on his lips, a red
haze appeared before his eyes. His machine shot up
almost vertically. As he lay back in his seat the spotted
belly of a Junkers, the funny, streamlined spats of its
thick wheels, and even the clods of earth from the
airfield sticking to them, flashed into his sight.
He pressed his trigger-buttons. Where he hit the
enemy plane—in the fuel tank, engine, or bomb rack—he
did not know, but the plane vanished instantly in the
brown smoke of an explosion.
The blast threw Meresyev's machine to the side and
it shot past the clump of fire. He levelled his machine
and scanned the sky. His follower was on his starboard
side suspended in the infinite blue above a sea of white